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Western consumers may be unfamiliar with eating seaweed outside of sushi or miso soup, but seaweed-flavoured food and drink are set to be the next big superfood trend in Europe. New research from Mintel reveals that food and drink product launches with seaweed flavours, including kombu, nori/laver, and wakame seaweed flavours, have increased by 147%* in Europe between 2011 and 2015. This growth means Europe is now the second most innovative region globally when it comes to seaweed-flavoured food and drink launches.

Indeed, while the majority of seaweed-flavoured food and drink products are currently launched in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for 88% of global product launches between 2011 and 2015, Europe launched 7% of seaweed-flavoured foods and drinks globally in this time, outpacing both North America (4%) and Latin America (1%).

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Stephanie Mattucci, Global Food Science Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Seaweed has been a famous delicacy in many Asian countries for centuries, celebrated for its flavour and nourishing powers. While still somewhat niche in Europe, we believe that seaweed could become the next superfood. Due to its abundance in natural vitamins, minerals, and plant-based protein, seaweed speaks to the growing quest for naturally functional foods and alternative protein sources in the West.”

Indeed, the health benefits of seaweed seem to appeal to European consumers, as Mintel research indicates that more than half (58%) of German consumers have either tried or would like to try algae as a protein source, with similar agreement reported in the UK (44%).

What’s more, some 36% of UK consumers who use herbs, spices or seasonings agree that ground, dried seaweed would be a good alternative to salt for flavoring meals or dishes. Indeed this could also be of interest to the European consumers keen to cut back on salt. Today, 32% of German, 42% of Spanish, 46% of French, 48% of Italian and 57% of Polish consumers say they are actively reducing their consumption of, or avoiding, salty foods.

“As consumer demand for low-salt products grows, food and drink offerings that reduce the intake of dietary sodium are increasingly popular. Seaweed is not only a natural way to substitute salt, but also exhibits antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties which may lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, or aid in digestion and weight management.” Stephanie continued.

Snacks with seaweed flavour especially popular

Seaweed’s health halo presents a big opportunity for manufacturers in the West, especially in the snack category. Indeed, around one third of consumers in Italy (30%), Poland (36%) and Spain (37%) would like to see a wider variety of healthier snacks.

Consumer demand is mirrored in recent launch activity, as 37% of seaweed-flavoured food and drink launches in Europe between 2011 and 2015 took place in the snack category, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). Other top categories for new product development in Europe include sauces and seasonings (12%), bakery (9%), and soup (8%).

However, Mintel research shows  it’s important that these products also tasty, as the majority of European snack consumers agree that taste is king: 56% of Italian, 57% of Spanish, 62% of French, 65% of Polish and seven out of ten (70%) German consumers** agree that flavour is more important than calorie content when indulging in a snack.

“The inherent health benefits in seaweed allow it to fit naturally into the healthy snack category. But even though consumers’ interest in health-enhancing food continues to increase, seaweed snacks will need to deliver on flavor in order to be successful with Western consumers.” Stephanie concludes.

* 0.07591% of all food and drink launches in Europe in 2015 contained seaweed flavour compared to 0.03077% in 2011.

** refers to consumer who have bought crisps, nuts or other salty snacks in the six months prior to the survey.

Press review copies of the research and interviews with Global Food Science Analyst Stephanie Mattucci are available on request from the press office.